Friday, October 30, 2015

No Goodbyes by Paul Monette

No Goodbyes

for hours at the end I kissed your temple stroked
your hair and sniffed it it smelled so clean we'd
washed it Saturday night when the fever broke
as if there was always the perfect thing to do
to be alive for years I'd breathe your hair
when I came to bed late it was such pure you
why I nuzzle your brush every morning because
you're in there just like the dog the night
we unpacked the hospital bag and he skipped
and whimpered when Dad put on the red
sweater Cover my bald spot will you
you'd say and tilt your head like a parrot
so I could fix you up always always
till this one night when I was reduced to
I love you little friend here I am my
sweetest pea over and over spending all our
endearments like stray coins at a border
but wouldn't cry then no choked it because
they all said hearing was the last to go
the ear is like a wolf's till the very end
straining to hear a whole forest and I
wanted you loping off whatever you could
still dream to the sound of me at 3 P.M.
you were stable still our favorite word
at 4 you took the turn WAIT WAIT I AM
THE SENTRY HERE nothing passes as long as
I'm where I am we go on death is
a lonely hole two can leap it or else
or else there is nothing this man is mine
he's an ancient Greek like me I do
all the negotiating while he does battle
we are war and peace in a single bed
we wear the same size shirt it can't it can't
be yet not this just let me brush his hair
it's only Tuesday there's chicken in the fridge
from Sunday night he ate he slept oh why
don't all these kisses rouse you I won't won't
say it all I will say is goodnight patting
a few last strands in place you're covered now
my darling one last graze in the meadow
of you and please let your final dream be 
a man not quite your size losing the whole
world but still here combing combing
singing your secret names till the night's gone

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Dead by Don Paterson

The Dead

Our business is with fruit and leaf and bloom;   
though they speak with more than just the season's tongue—   
the colours that they blaze from the dark loam   
all have something of the jealous tang   
of the dead about them. What do we know of their part   
in this, those secret brothers of the harrow,   
invigorators of the soil—oiling the dirt   
so liberally with their essence, their black marrow?   
But here's the question. Are the flower and fruit   
held out to us in love, or merely thrust   
up at us, their masters, like a fist?   
Or are they the lords, asleep amongst the roots,   
granting to us in their great largesse   
this hybrid thing—part brute force, part mute kiss?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Manhattan Dawn (1945) by Donald Justice

Manhattan Dawn (1945)

There is a smoke of memory
That curls about these chimneys
And then uncurls; that lifts,
Diaphanous, from sleep

To lead us down some alleyway
Still vaguely riverward;
And so at length disperses
Into the wisps and tatters

That garland fire escapes.
—And we have found ourselves again
Watching, beside a misty platform,
The first trucks idling to unload

(New England's frost still
Unstippling down their sides).
                                                Or turned
To catch blue truant eyes upon us

Through steam that rose up suddenly from a grate . . .
And the grin slid off across the storefronts.
Dawn always seemed to overtake us, though,

Down Hudson somewhere, or Horatio.
—And we have seen it bend
The long stripes of the awnings down
Toward gutters where discarded flowers

Lay washing in the night's small rain—
Hints, glimmerings of a world
Not ours.
              And office towers
Coast among lost stars.

Demeter in Paris by Meghan O'Rourke

Demeter in Paris 

You can only miss someone when they are present to you.

The Isle of the Dead is both dark and light.

Henry Miller told Anaïs Nin that the only real death is being dead while alive.

The absent will only be absent when they are forgotten.

Until then, absence is a lie, an oxymoron.

Therefore it is entirely unclear what absence means, or consists of.

Sometimes I want to be famous once more, and then I think about the paparazzi.

I value my solitude. But I fear I am dead while alive.

Forgetting is a kind of blessing: It would [   ].

To avoid living, worry about all you’ve forgotten.

Then worry about what you will forget.

I have lived long enough to want to do it over.

When I miss my daughter, it’s as a kind of idea. Then she comes to me unexpectedly:
        in her corduroy red parka, hair sticking out,
        smiling at the geese, eating her shoelaces,
        pointing, crying, More!

When I saw the movie, in the dark center of winter, I thought:

The son wasn’t trying to say goodbye to his dying father. He was trying to say forever.

Alone so much, I think about the people whose stories I learn in books.

Often I think of the grandmother of one of Picasso’s lovers. Her granddaughter

did not understand why she went so often to the graves of her children and husband.

Just wait, her grandmother said. You will see.

No, what she said is there comes a time when, past your moment,

you live for external things: the sky, a piece of grass, a smell.

A painting, I would say. A painting where the colors are everything.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Relevant Details by Catherine Pierce

Relevant Details

The bar was called The Den of Iniquity,
or maybe The Cadillac Lounge—whatever
it was, its sign was a neon martini glass,
or a leg ending in stiletto. Maybe a parrot. Anyway,
in that place I danced without anyone
touching me but seven men watched
from the bar with embered, truculent eyes.
Or I danced with my boyfriend’s hands
hot around my ribs. Or I didn’t have a boyfriend
and no one was looking and my dance moves
were nervous, sick-eel-ish, and eventually
I just sat down. What I remember for sure
is that was the night I drank well gin
and spun myself into a terrible headache.
That was the night I thought I was pregnant
and drank only club soda. That was
the night I made a tower from Rolling Rock
bottles sometime after midnight
and management spoke to me quietly
but only after snapping a Polaroid
for the bathroom Wall of Fame. In any case,
when I finally stumbled or strode
or snuck outside, the air was Austin-thick,
Reno-dry, Montpellier-sharp. I don’t remember
if my breath clouded or vanished
or dropped beneath the humidity. I don’t remember
if the music pulsing from inside
was the Velvet Underground or Otis Redding
or the local band of mustached banjo men.
You know this poem has a gimmick,
and you’re right. But understand: if I wrote
Cadillac Lounge, boyfriend, beer tower, soul
it would be suddenly true, a memory lit
by lightning flash. Who needs that sort
of confinement? If the way forward
is an unbending line, let the way back
be quicksilver, beading and re-swirling. Forgive
the trick and let me keep this mix-and-match,
this willful confusion of bars, of beaches,
of iced overpasses and hands on my hands,
all the films with gunfights, all the films
with dogs, the Kandinsky, the Rembrandt,
the moment the moon’s face snapped
into focus, the moment I learned
the word truculent, each moment the next
and the one before, and in this blur,
oh, how many lifetimes I can have.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Weed Puller by Theodore Roethke

Weed Puller

Under the concrete benches,
Hacking at black hairy roots,—
Those lewd monkey-tails hanging from drainholes,—
Digging into the soft rubble underneath,
Webs and weeds,
Grubs and snails and sharp sticks,
Or yanking tough fern-shapes,
Coiled green and thick, like dripping smilax,
Tugging all day at perverse life:
The indignity of it!—
With everything blooming above me,
Lilies, pale-pink cyclamen, roses,
Whole fields lovely and inviolate,—
Me down in that fetor of weeds,
Crawling on all fours,
Alive, in a slippery grave.

An American Poem by Eileen Myles

An American Poem

I was born in Boston in
1949. I never wanted
this fact to be known, in
fact I’ve spent the better
half of my adult life
trying to sweep my early
years under the carpet
and have a life that
was clearly just mine
and independent of
the historic fate of
my family. Can you
imagine what it was
like to be one of them,
to be built like them,
to talk like them
to have the benefits
of being born into such
a wealthy and powerful
American family. I went
to the best schools,
had all kinds of tutors
and trainers, traveled
widely, met the famous,
the controversial, and
the not-so-admirable
and I knew from
a very early age that
if there were ever any
possibility of escaping
the collective fate of this famous
Boston family I would
take that route and
I have. I hopped
on an Amtrak to New
York in the early
‘70s and I guess
you could say
my hidden years
began. I thought
Well I’ll be a poet.
What could be more
foolish and obscure.
I became a lesbian.
Every woman in my
family looks like
a dyke but it’s really
stepping off the flag
when you become one.
While holding this ignominious
pose I have seen and
I have learned and
I am beginning to think
there is no escaping
history. A woman I
am currently having
an affair with said
you know  you look
like a Kennedy. I felt
the blood rising in my
cheeks. People have
always laughed at
my Boston accent
confusing “large” for
“lodge,” “party”
for “potty.” But
when this unsuspecting
woman invoked for
the first time my
family name
I knew the jig
was up. Yes, I am,
I am a Kennedy.
My attempts to remain
obscure have not served
me well. Starting as
a humble poet I
quickly climbed to the
top of my profession
assuming a position of
leadership and honor.
It is right that a
woman should call
me out now. Yes,
I am a Kennedy.
And I await
your orders.
You are the New Americans.
The homeless are wandering
the streets of our nation’s
greatest city. Homeless
men with AIDS are among
them. Is that right?
That there are no homes
for the homeless, that
there is no free medical
help for these men. And women.
That they get the message
—as they are dying—
that this is not their home?
And how are your
teeth today? Can
you afford to fix them?
How high is your rent?
If art is the highest
and most honest form
of communication of
our times and the young
artist is no longer able
to move here to speak
to her time…Yes, I could,
but that was 15 years ago
and remember—as I must
I am a Kennedy.
Shouldn’t we all be Kennedys?
This nation’s greatest city
is home of the business-
man and home of the
rich artist. People with
beautiful teeth who are not
on the streets. What shall
we do about this dilemma?
Listen, I have been educated.
I have learned about Western
Civilization. Do you know
what the message of Western
Civilization is? I am alone.
Am I alone tonight?
I don’t think so. Am I
the only one with bleeding gums
tonight. Am I the only
homosexual in this room
tonight. Am I the only
one whose friends have
died, are dying now.
And my art can’t
be supported until it is
gigantic, bigger than
everyone else’s, confirming
the audience’s feeling that they are
alone. That they alone
are good, deserved
to buy the tickets
to see this Art.
Are working,
are healthy, should
survive, and are
normal. Are you
normal tonight? Everyone
here, are we all normal.
It is not normal for
me to be a Kennedy.
But I am no longer
ashamed, no longer
alone. I am not
alone tonight because
we are all Kennedys.
And I am your President.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Lost Baby Poem by Lucille Clifton

The Lost Baby Poem

the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

you would have been born into winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car       we would have made the thin
walk over genesee hill into the canada wind
to watch you slip like ice into strangers’ hands
you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
if you were here i could tell you these
and some other things

if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisters
let the rivers pour over my head
let the sea take me for a spiller
of seas        let black men call me stranger
always        for your never named sake

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Crescent Moon on a Cat’s Collar by Juan Felipe Herrera

Crescent Moon on a Cat’s Collar

I come from a family of madmen and extravagant women.

My uncle, back in '26
wrote to the president of Mexico.

He accused him of murdering the potato eaters
by the millions.

So, they set him up for life
in a Goddamn Army hospital mental ward.
Another uncle

Xavier Levario got in with big business
making toys out of wood. I could have gone to France,
that’s where the art was, he said. But I joined everybody
in the States.

Armanda, my aunt whose hair has always looked like
gold dust,
a fleece,

owned the only swimming pool in the heart of Mexico City
near la Calle Uruguay. 

My father drove a pink Ford down the main drag in Tijuana.
All the women loved him, no one has ever smiled sweeter.

My pocket is full of ancient coins.
I keep a silver box of African and Zapotec amulets and hair
near my bed, a tarnished sword and acrylics.

Lightning zig-zags like a dog’s tail
everytime I throw a stone in Southern Arizona.

I have fallen in wells and risen.
All my enemies, including the governors and the wardens,
keep away from my eyes and especially

from the rhythms swelling up through my feet and out
of the opal triumph of my voice   

Three Drunks in a Bar by Ghassan Zaqtan

Three Drunks in a Bar

The dovetailed glass dissolved their voices.
The bundle of light hunted their dreams like butterflies.
And echo, like an old promise,
carved their forms in the dust.

While the three of them climbed their tobacco stairs,
marvels patiently sought a niche in the wall.

And as they climbed they left behind the marks
one finds on the corpses of hunted birds.
And when they left, they left the place to itself
empty and meaningless, loose and unchained.

At the end of the night they didn’t laugh or blink.
At night’s end they were so silent
that they couldn’t hear the city
scream in its sleep.

And they couldn’t hear the day
that trekked like blind water
on the edge of a dam.

(Translated by Fady Joudah)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

There Are Birds Here by Jamaal May

There Are Birds Here

   For Detroit

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop

Questions of Travel

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home, 
wherever that may be?" 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Everything Is Going to Be All Right by Derek Mahon

Everything Is Going to Be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart;
the sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright. 
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

The Wide Receiver Declares Himself Ready by Lytton Smith

The Wide Receiver Declares Himself Ready

“Go long,” you say, “get open,” though you mean
Why don’t you tie your sorrows to your saddle-bow
and ride singing forth?—and I set off, gone beyond
the last bus-stop, its shelter idling, I continue
past the moon landing staged in a barn
the government has blacked-out and starred
with phosphor. I keep going, past the last whalers,
sea-town inns, verge-of-the-afterlife churches
clergied by sailors the ocean spewed back, I reach
the harbour where townsmen jettison the cargo
of tea leaves, I travel waters where the Armada lies
foundered from cannon-breach, I pass Chaucer’s company
returning, their contest forgotten as the inn approaches,
I go beyond the fifteen-foot walls of the Tower of London
to the battle at Hastings where the Normans feint flight
then charge then rout, and here, “Go long, get open,” means
“stand firm,” means “to the death,” and when I call “let fly”
you do, arrow or pigskin lost in the sun and I’m waiting
and waiting and you won’t believe the far I’ve gone.